Obama isn’t just going for a win. He’s shooting for a “realignment.” Obama is trying to shape a new kind of electorate, creating a long-term Democratic majority that would allow him and his successors to stop catering to the center and finally govern decisively from the left.
Obama’s strategy, says Heileman, is built around the idea that he can win with a coalition of the “demographically ascendent,” African Americans, Hispanics, women, and young people. To a degree, the bad economy has pushed Obama toward this approach. The obvious hope is that economic weakness can be countered by appeals to socially liberal women and young people on cultural issues. But don’t underestimate the extent to which this strategy is a deliberate decision that could have gone otherwise, as the behind-the-scenes opposition of some Democrats indicates. Obama is clearly willing to abandon centrist voters and place his own likeability at risk for the sake of creating a socially and economically liberal Democratic coalition that would allow him to govern securely from the left.
Painting Mitt Romney and his supporters as hopelessly retro Fifties retreads is at the core of Obama’s strategy, says Heilemann. All the president’s recent remarks about Romney and the Republicans as black-and-white TV re-runs, horses and bayonets, etc., follow from this early decision. The goal, says a top Obama strategist, is to get women, Hispanics, and young people to look at Romney and say: “This f***ing guy is gonna take us back to the way it always was, and guess what? I’ve never been part of that.” (No asterisks in the original.) The problem, of course, is that plenty of voters might feel there was some genuine good in the way America “always was” (like, say, the Constitution).